Gruidés by Stephen O'Malley

Stephen O’Malley is known for his dark drone works with Sunn O))). Gruides is his first solo outing and his first orchestral piece. Gruides was commissioned by the French improvisational orchestra ONCEIM. It was recorded in St. Mary’s Church in central Paris - a venue where the acoustics lent themselves perfectly to the music. The 35-minute orchestral drone piece is technically demanding for the players and richly rewarding for its listeners.

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Gruidés by Stephen O'Malley
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8/10 Jim 17 July 2015

I guess it was only a matter of time before Stephen O’Malley’s room hungry drones moved into the realms of orchestral composition. To be fair, ‘Guidés’ was apparently commissioned by ONCEIM, a 35-piece improvising French orchestra of experimental musicians. And despite being ‘intimidated’ by the task in hand and without a single amplified guitar in earshot, this record suggests that Mr O’Malley approached the challenge of working with the radically different tonalities of bowed strings, woodwind, brass and percussion with relish.

‘Guidés’ is a dark and tense piece, featuring stark combinations of droning instruments punctuated by jarring stabs of hard percussion; closer to the bracing austerity of some ancient Japanese court music than any form of Heavy Metal. There are parts that remind me of Scelsi­ –especially when held notes descend into a writhing tangle– and other sections are more static, like Phill Niblock. Perhaps the most recognisably ‘rock’ aspect is in the way the tension of the piece builds and culminates with a huge, stumbling rhythm­ –like a 50 foot Dale Crover– over which blaring, open-ended chords bloom like Tibetan monastic music.


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